Lanty was one of the best blacksmiths that ever handled hot iron. He was as straight as a pike handle, tall and strong, with fair, curly hair and a laugh that rang clear as the music of his own hammer on the anvil when he'd be making a horseshoe. A night of him at work of a Winter's evening was as good as a sermon. Standing in a shower of sparks, with the light on his face, and him hammering for dear life on the white iron, he looked as brave as a regiment; and when he'd be in the humor he could play a tune on the anvil that would make a man with a wooden leg dance.
It was nothing at all for him to play "Tather Jack Welsh" or "The Rakes of Kildare" while he'd be making a horseshoe. And they used to say that, on account of the music he put into his work, the horse he'd shoe could gallop faster than any other in Connaught.
This is why the people came from all parts, day and night, to have him shoe their horses, and some of the best bloods on the Curragh of Kildare would come to him whenever there was going to be a race, to put speed in the feet of their racers.
There was only one thing in the world on Lanty's mind, and that was his love for Nora Ormsby, the widow's daughter, who lived near the woods of Glenbeg. Every boy in the barony would give his two eyes for a smile from Nora Dheelish, as they called her; and even those with only one eye, who could only see half of her beauty, you might say, would gladly part with that for a friendly glance from her. But, to tell the truth, Nora's smiles were as scarce as blackberries at Christmas for everybody barring Lanty, until a gay blade of a lad came down from Dublin on a hunting trip, and stayed for a while with the agent of his father's estate at the Big House near by.
The Dublin man was called Lord Kilduff, and, no more than another, he had an eye for beauty. One evening himself and the agent stopped as Widow Ormsby's door, after their day's hunting, for a drink of water, and when Nora brought it to them she put so much consternation in the young lord's mind that he forgot to quench his thirst. The next day he was back again, all by himself, with a smile on his face, and he says when he saw Nora; "I came for that drink of water I forgot yesterday."
"An', shure, what made you forget it?" said Nora as innocent as anything.
"Faith, I think it was the fairy of the glen that put it out of my head." says he, and he stayed and talked until the cows came home.
After that, as long as he was in the place, there wasn't a day but he'd find some excuse for strolling into Glenbeg, and it was surprising altogether what a liking he had for a noggin of cold water, seeing that he was a Dublin man. Nora, not being used to the ways of the world soon had her pretty head turned by his blarneyfied speeches, and, sorrow to say, when he told her he loved her better than any one else in the world, and that he'd come look for her some time, she believed him.
All this brought on a coldness between Nora and Lanty, as you may well suppose. Nora Dheelish seemed under a spell after the handsome young lord went away, and anything Lanty might say or do couldn't win back the smiles that in other days she had for no one but him. By degrees Lanty left off his visits to Glenbeg altogether. He had a sore heart in his bosom; but he was a brave boy, for all that, and his forge was not idle.
It happened of a Winter's night that the blacksmith was roused by a loud knocking at his door. He didn't think any harm of it, as it was customary with him to be called at all hours by travelers passing by to fasten a shoe on their horses or something of that sort. Lanty slipped quietly to his door, and while he was taking down the bar of it he heard a woman's voice saying: "Are you shure he won't see me?"
"Not while you keep that cloak about you," a man was saying, and then Lanty opened the door. It puzzled the blacksmith when he looked out to see there was only a man there, and him holding a horse by the bridle.
"My horse has slipped a shoe. Can you do a quick job for me?" says the stranger, who had a face full of black whiskers on him.
"I can that, your honor." says Lanty, seeing that he was talking to one of the quality, and wondering at the same time where the woman was that he heard. Lanty took the horse by the bridle and led him into the forge close by, the stranger walking at his side.
"If it's pleasin' to you, the lady can stay in the house while I'm settin' the shoe." ventured Lanty, for he had a queer feeling at seeing nobody but the man and the horse after he had heard the voices. His words gave the stranger a start, and the horse shook his head with a snort.
"There's nobody but myself and Black Dick, the horse here," said the gentleman.
"I'd give my oath that I heard a woman talkin' to you when I kem to the door."
"I was just talking to the horse," says the man. "Now, hurry up. There's a good fellow. Make a quick job of it. It's nearly midnight, and I have a long ride before me."
But Lanty was bothered. The horse was different to any he had ever seen in them parts, and the way he went into the forge and held up the hoof that wanted a shoe added to the blacksmith's wonderment.
"That's a knowing baste you have," says Lanty, looking at the horse.
"He's of pure Arab blood," says the gentleman.
"Maybe that accounts for the quare hoof he has on him. Shure it's more like a cow's foot than that of a horse."
"The high-breed Arab horses are all like that." says the gentleman.
"Faith, an' that might explain why they run so fast," replied Lanty smiling, as he put the life into the fire with his bellows, making the forge as bright as day.
"If it will assist you any, I can handle the bellows," says the stranger, and the horse nodded his head.
"Every hand is a help in a hurry." says Lanty cheerfully, and soon he was at work making the anvil ring with the music of his hammer, and shaping the shoe for the queer hoof.
The stranger went round to the horse's head, and Lanty thought he heard them whispering something. Then the man returned in a hurry, and, says he, "I want you to make all speed. Put on the shoe the way it is. We cannot stay another minute."
With that the horse held up his hoof again, waiting for the job to be done, and looking to be in as big a hurry as his master.
"Well, that bates anything I ever saw," says Lanty in real astonishment. "Your horse is the most knowledgeable baste that ever stepped in this forge. I'll put the shoe on in a jiffy, Sir: but I'll put on right, for all that. Shure this horse has sense enough to put a curse on one if it went on crooked." And Lanty held the shoe out before him to see that it was shaped the way he wanted it. Then he set it on the anvil again and began to hammer the kinks out of it.
"For Heaven's sake, man don't be so particular! Put the shoe on at once the way it is," said the gentleman.
"You don't want your horse to go lame, do you?" says Lanty, who was provokingly precise in the way he did his work.
"I don't care a damn!" says the stranger in a burst of temper. "Put on the shoe, or I'll go without. I am late as it is."
"It isn't cock-crow yet," says Lanty and the horse shook himself from head to tail.
"It's later than that," says the gentleman. "And what does that signify, anyway?"
"It signifies this," says Lanty, who was fitting the shoe, "that after cock-crow your journey will be safer for you than before. When the cock crows every bad thing, even the Ould Boy himself, has to disappear from the face of the earth, an' shure, that will make it safe for you travelin'. Nobody in Crag-A-Phooka would think o' starting out on a night's journey till cock-crow, because afther that Ould Nick can't harm thim."
"The devil!" says the stranger impatiently.
"Yes, even him," assented Lanty provokingly. "I have the finest black March bird you ever laid eyes on, an' he crows at the right minit. If you are here at midnight you will hear him let a crow out of him that will make the rest of your journey safe, Sir, I'll warrant you; for everything shupernatural an' wicked will have to go at the sound of that bouchaleen's voice. Afther that you are not likely to meet anything worse than yourself, with respect to you.
When Lanty said this the horse shook all over and knocked the shoe out of his hand.
"More delay," says Lanty; "but it's all for the better, Sir. 'Twill soon be cock-crow, an' even if you can't go fast you can go sure, at any rate. Maybe you'd better hould the baste's head steady. I'll have the shoe on now before you could look crooked at me.
Lanty had the shoe in place and was going to put the first nail in it when there came a great clapping of wings from the roost near by.
"There goes my March bird," says Lanty proudly. "Now you may be shure it's cock-crow in earnest."
"Blast your bird!" says the man, his eyes blazing like two big sparks from the anvil.
Then the cock crew with all his might. Lanty thought he never heard him crow so loud before; but he didn't have time to think much of anything, for at that moment he had a terrible fright. He had his hammer raised to strike the nail the first blow, when all of a sudden, at the last shrill note of the March bird, the forge was filled with a mighty blaze that blinded him for a minute, and then, wonderful to relate, horse and stranger disappeared in a flash of fire, taking the roof along with them.
Lanty wasn't easily frightened; but a thing like that would joggle anybody, and it was no wonder that the first thing he said as soon as he recovered his senses was, "The Lord save us this blessed night!"
But this was not all, for another wonder was in store for him. When he found that he wasn't carried off himself, and saw that he was safe and sound beside his anvil, he heard a woman crying and sobbing to break her heart.
"Oh, Lanty, Lanty, save me, save me!" she cried in great terror.
Lanty gave the bellows a twist or two and there was light in the place again. Then he saw a woman kneeling near the door, and the fear of death was in her face.
"Nora Dheelish!" he shouted. "Is it you that's in id?" and was at her side in an instant.
"It's me, Lanty." she said with a great sob. "It's poor me; but you'll never speak to me again. Shure I don't deserve a kindly word or a look from you at all."
"Hush, aroon!" and his voice was full of tenderness for her in her wild distress. "Shure what is it came over you at all?" he asked.
"It was the enchantment, Lanty." says she between sobs. "I was goin' away to Dublin wid Lord Kilduff. He put a black cloak around me, shure, an' said no one could see me while I wore it. It kept me under a spell, but it went away when the great big light blazed."
"Lord Kilduff, was id?" said Lanty with a scowl, "an' he had the divil for his horse! If I was anything but a half-natural, shure I'd have known it when I saw the hoof that was on the baste. Well, at any rate, it's lucky he lost a shoe near my forge. There, now, don't cry, Nora Dhelish."
"Oh, but, Lanty, you'll never forgive me!" she wailed.
"An' why not, Nora? Shure, you were under the spell, an' you couldn't help it. But 'tis broken now, an' Lord Kilduff an' his horse are gone to a hotter forge than mine, I'm thinkin'."
Then the March bird crowed long and loud and clear once more, as if to scare away all the misfortune that threatened the happiness of Lanty and Nora Dheelish.